Jimmy Buffett was right in his easy-going element Friday night at KAABOO Del Mar, where he drew an overflow crowd to his headlining set on the Sunset Cliffs Stage.
At 69-going-on-16, this quintessentially laid back troubadour has been transforming his concerts into giant beach parties for several decades. At KAABOO, which fills the Del Mar Racetrack and adjacent fairgrounds, he was practically on the beach.
Located at the venue’s westernmost point, the Sunset Cliffs Stage is straddled on two sides by San Elijo Lagoon. Just a mile or so north, in Solana Beach, is the Belly Up Tavern, a venue the young Buffett performed at more than a few times back in the last century, before his 1977 breakthrough hit, “Margaritaville,” helped propel him to fame.
Behind the Sunset Cliffs Stage, and just beyond are the train tracks and Highway 101 lies the Pacific Ocean, a partial inspiration for “Come Monday,” Buffett’s fifth selection of the night.
“I wrote this little song while driving up and down PCH,” Buffet said as he introduced the song. Then, gazing out at the multi-generational audience, which appeared to number at least 15,000, he added: ”Thank you for coming and raising your children, and bringing them to our concerts.”
A few songs earlier, while performing his version of John Hiatt’s admirably wry “The Tiki Bar is Open,” Buffett sang an impromptu couplet: “Del Mar, where the surf meets the turf!”
Backed by his well-drilled band, The Coral Reefers, Buffett delivered his 22-song set with the relaxed, seaside raconteur charm that has long been his calling card.
Prior to an especially ebullient version of “Fins,” Buffett told the cheering audience: “It’s that time when we have land sharks. This is not a yoga class!”
He then put puts arms over head, with his hands straight up together over his head, and instructed crowd to do the same: “Okay, now right, left, right, left.”
Given that many longtime Buffett fans can do the “Fins” choreography in their sleep, it’s unclear how many KAABOO attendees needed any instructions. But watching thousands of fans, some more well-lubricated than others, engage in such an agreeably silly dry-land shark simulation never fails to inspire smiles.
For “Magaritavillle,” which is also the title of Buffett’s upcoming 2017 musical at the La Jolla Playhouse, he was joined by Frank Marshall, one of Buffett’s “Margaritaville” collaborators.
“It’s his 70th birthday!” Buffett said.
Buffett and his band also performed winning versions of such favorites as the tender “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and the rollicking “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Their set also included appealing cover versions of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Southern Cross” and a suitably reverent version of the Eagles’ “Take It Easy.”
Not long before the performance concluded with “One Particular Harbor,” Buffet let it be known that his giant beach party would continue here next month.
“We wish everybody fun here in Del Mar,” he said. “We’re coming back in October. You’re stuck with us for a while!”